Witpoort watermill (Stoffberg/Mpumalanga)
Towards the end of the 19th Century, Willem Jacobus Volschenk built a
beautiful little watermill on his farm Witpoort. This mill was to play
a small but vital role in the Anglo-Boer War.
General Ben Viljoen, member for Johannesburg on the Transvaal Volksraad
not only led the Johannesburg Commando, but led the Boers in skirmish
after skirmish around Lydenburg. As fighting raged in the area, the
Witpoort Watermill proved a vital asset for the Boers. With its three
sieves, ranging in texture from very fine for human consumption to less
fine for chickens and courser for cattle, the mill kept the Boers fed.
Colonel Bindin Blood, leader of the
attacking British forces which finally located the mill, ordered the
mill dynamited but fortunately, only the coarse grinder was destroyed.
Another was promptly sourced from a mill nearby and the mill continued
to produce meal for the Boers and surrounding population until the war
Having survived the war relatively
intact, Witpoort Mill received new machinery from Ipswich, England. The
mill prospered and as many as 70 donkey carts at a time could be seen
waiting their turn to get their owners’ maize ground. The process was
slow, as with water power, it took 15 minutes to grind a 70 kg bag of
meal and it took three people to operate the mill. A drought in 1963
changed this as tractor power had to be used, which reduced milling
time to eight minutes a bag.
In 1986 the mill was electrified
which speeded up the process even more. In 1980, it cost R3.10 to grind
one bag of meal. When the mill ceased operating in 1994, this cost had
shot up to R10. Koos Sonakhosa Mahlangu is a living link to the mills’
martial days. His father was the original miller during the Anglo-Boer
War. Koos, from the age of four, followed in his father’s footsteps.
Permanently dusted with the fine meal kicked up by the heavy
millstones, he continued to work the Witpoort Watermill until it ceased
operation. Today, the attractive red-roofed mill house with its steel
overshot wheel is a fascinating historic addition to what is now a
privately owned estate and nature reserve know as Valley of the Rainbow.
This watermill was part of the
watermills pictured on the November 2007 South African Post Office
stamp release (more info)..